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North Hills Monthly

Smart Restaurants Cater to Dietary Restrictions

Oct 30, 2015 03:06PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Names can be deceiving. Take the Double Wide Grill, for instance. It sounds like they only sell beef and pork Bar-B-Que, but you might be surprised to learn that they also have a tantalizing vegetarian and vegan menu, as well as gluten-free options. Homemade wood-grilled lentil veggie burgers, wood-grilled tofu skewers topped with their signature Vegan Pittsburgh Bar-B-Que sauce, coconut rum tofu, homemade vegan seitan wings and pulled seitan are served in both locations in the South Side and Mars, making this restaurant a game-changer for families with differing diets.

According to Ryan Moore, 38, director of events and operations for Double Wide Grill, owners of the restaurant began noticing that customers were becoming more knowledgeable and asking servers about their ingredients. “Our gluten-free menu started three years ago,” he said. “Within the last five years the public has paid attention to what they’re eating, and we’re fine with being transparent about everything we serve. Families and friends with differing dietary restrictions appreciate being able to enjoy eating together in a restaurant when the restaurant offers something for everyone.”

Choosing not to eat meat products may divide families at meal time, but food allergies can make going out to a restaurant a near impossibility. Steve Negri, 50, of Franklin Park is the father of a 13-year-old son who has life-threatening food allergies to all nuts, peas, and legumes. He’s also the owner of Mandy’s Pizza in West View, which serves allergen-free pizza and hoagies. “People don’t understand that it’s not Brandon’s choice—peanuts are like a loaded weapon to him,” explained Negri, noting that some parents complain about not being able to send certain foods to school with their kids. “You can’t make light of this situation—it’s serious.”

Providing a safe eating establishment for Brandon and others like him make his product cost a bit more, but running an allergen-free restaurant has been rewarding for Negri in a variety of ways. “I would probably be back to the corporate grind if it wasn’t for my allergy families,” he said, noting that kids like Brandon often feel ostracized. In fact, it was Brandon himself who invented the allergen-free pizza and hoagie rolls currently used in the family’s pizzeria and sold through Whole Foods. “Kids come in and say ‘thank you’ all the time, because being able to eat here with their families takes the stigma out of food allergies. If people in the restaurant industry would take the time to understand food allergies, it would make it easier for people like us.”

Doug Foster, 30, was diagnosed with celiac disease when he was five. Never satisfied with the taste of gluten-free beer, he and his business partner, Ryan Bove, 29, who also has celiac disease, decided to brew up a better product. In 2014, they opened Aurochs Brewing in Emsworth and created a safe place for those who suffer from celiac disease to gather and enjoy tasty craft beer.

“The gluten-free integrity of our beer is tantamount to what we do,” said Foster, adding that all products get tested when they come into the facility. “If anyone brings a lunch that is not gluten-free, they have to keep it in the car.”

An autoimmune disease, celiac disease is gaining more awareness. When sufferers eat gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye and barley—their bodies experience an immune response that attacks the small intestine, hampering nutrient absorption and causing pain. “What makes diagnosis so complex is that the symptoms are wide-ranging,” said Foster.

The brewery is currently undergoing construction and will reopen in early 2016. “So often we’re focused on the individual, but beer and food bring people together, so the ability to sit down and enjoy something of great quality with great company really is a true pleasure,” said Foster.

James Samreny, 33, is the general manager of The Oven Pizza Company in Wexford. “We focus on having a gluten-free pizza, because it’s the biggest trend in terms of allergens. Many people can’t do egg or dairy, so we decided to offer something without eggs. We don’t offer a dairy-free pizza, but some people bring their own cheese and we work with them,” he explained, noting that this special service is kind of a best-kept secret.

“An employee of ours had celiac disease, and we have friends who are our customers with celiac disease, so we tried it out and only offered it by word of mouth,” he continued. “It’s now on our menu, but we’ve not done much to push it, despite the fact that it’s become really popular. We do a very good pizza for people who realize the health benefits of not eating gluten.”